We are answering questions from people who believe Paul was a liar and a fraud. These people say they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so the questions go beyond the usual opposition we receive from Muslims, Jews and others about Paul’s apostleship. The questioners claim to love Christ and His Word, but deny half of the New Testament. That is a concern when we see in Acts that Jesus personally chose Paul for a special ministry to the Gentile world (Acts 9) and that the Holy Spirit chose Paul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 13 – 14).
Because half of the New Testament is in question, we are addressing the questions we’ve received in recent months in the hope this will help the people who sent them and others who are not open to hearing from God in Paul’s letters. (Many of the people who do not accept Paul’s letters as Scripture also do not accept 2 Peter and other Books of the New Testament as Scripture.)
Before we began answering questions in our last article, we shared a foundation to Paul’s connections, corroborations and confirmations as an apostle of Jesus Christ from the Book of Acts. You may also want read about some of the people who are asking the questions.
Now, to answer more questions. [All questions are copied directly from communications with Faith and Self Defense and are presented unchanged.]
- If Paul’s words are “holy scriptures”, then why does 2nd Timothy 3:15 say Timothy had been reading them since he was a child? Were Paul’s letters even written when Timothy was a child?
Paul’s reference to “Holy Scriptures” in 2 Timothy 3:15 and other portions of his writings pertained to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Though the Apostle Peter called Paul’s writings “Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16), Paul did not refer to his letters as being part of the official Canon of Scripture.
- If “none are righteous” as Paul universally declares in Romans 3:9-20, then why are the parents of John the Baptist declared “righteous before God” in Luke 1:6?
The context of Romans 3 is what advantage a Jew has over a Gentile in knowing God. Paul wrote that chiefly it was because “to them were committed the oracles of God,” the oracles being the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul points to what he said earlier in his letter – “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin” – then writes in verse 10, “as it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one.” Paul is agreeing with something that was “written.” What did he quote?
First, here’s what Paul wrote:
“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ‘Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit’; ‘The poison of asps is under their lips’; ‘Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.’ ‘Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.’ ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Here are some of the Hebrew Scriptures from which Paul quoted:
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Psalm 14:1-3
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” Ecclesiastes 7:20
“For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; Their inward part is destruction; Their throat is an open tomb; They flatter with their tongue.” Psalm 5:9
“The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is in none of his thoughts … His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.” Psalm 10:4, 7
“An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes … The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit.” Psalm 36:1, 3
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; There is none who does good. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Psalm 53:1-3
“Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; Preserve me from violent men, Who plan evil things in their hearts; They continually gather together for war. They sharpen their tongues like a serpent; The poison of asps is under their lips. ” Psalm 140:1-3
“Their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths.” Isaiah 59:7
As for Luke writing that Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth “were both righteous before God,” he added that they were “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Zacharias and Elizabeth were identified righteous before God based on the dispensation in which they lived. The Old Testament has many examples of “believers” who God counted as righteous because of their faith that led to God seeing them as “righteous” before Him. Hebrews 11 has a detailed list of many of those Old Testament believers.
Paul wrote Romans after Christ was crucified and raised from the dead, after the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and disciples in Jerusalem, after Israel’s leaders rejected Jesus as Messiah, after Jesus personally chose Paul to preach the Gospel to Gentiles and Jews, after the Holy Spirit chose Paul to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. Paul referred to the time as “the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you” (Ephesians 3:2). Understanding the new dispensation is key to understanding how God views righteousness and unrighteousness. Also read Galatians 3 & 4 for more insight. [I realize in writing this that you may not believe Paul’s letters to be inspired, but when you do realize that most of your questions will be answered within Paul’s writings.]
- Why does Paul say, “as it is written” in Romans 3:10 and then string together single sentences from no less than six places in the Bible, stringing them together as if they are one statement? Does he truly represent it “as it is written?” Are his conclusions the same as the original?
This is not an unusual technique in describing, explaining and teaching. Quoting from one source with multiple examples that are contextually accurate is a method used by people of all walks of life.
Someone asks a child to describe his experience at the zoo: “We saw the lions and we saw a clown and had ice cream and Johnny spilled his drink on Mrs. Wilson, and Donnie bit his tongue and it bled all over his shirt, and the giraffe was really tall, and I got lost, and we had a lot of fun!” Did all of those things happen in quick succession? Probably not. But they were all part of the child describing his experience at the zoo. It was accurate and in the context of the visit.
So it was with Paul’s usage of several Old Testament verses. They were all accurate and in context. Of course, Paul does not answer in the same way a small child would about his or her experiences at the zoo. Paul was a long-time student and teacher of the Old Testament and understood it better than others of his time. He had studied the Hebrew Bible in the school of Hillel under the great teacher Gamaliel and received revelations about God’s mystery directly from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Paul was in a unique position to correctly interpret and use the Old Testament to teach New Testament theology.
- Part of Paul’s Romans 3:10 quote comes from Psalms 14. If there are “none righteous” including believers as Paul alleges, then why does Psalm 14:5 say, “for God is in the generation of the righteous”? Why would God speak of those who Paul says never existed?
Paul did not allege that “believers” were not righteous. In this early part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he’s presenting the case for the whole world being guilty before God. In Romans 3:10 he is just sentences away from presenting the powerful case of justification by faith in Christ alone.
Follow the context and you’ll see how Paul is masterfully building the case for God. He first proved the case against the Gentile pagans, then the case against the Jews. In fact, Paul shows that the advantages the Jews had, knowing the Law, makes their condemnation even greater than the pagans.
With that context in mind, read Romans 3:21-26 again:
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The “righteousness” of believers comes “through faith in Jesus Christ.” Before we were believers? There is none righteous.
As for Psalm 14:5, look at the context to see who’s who in King David’s writing. It’s also good to compare Psalm 14 with Psalm 53 since they are so similar. The context of both is the fool saying in his heart that God does not exist. It is the great divide between atheists and theists. They are corrupt and do abominable works against God’s people, but the day is coming when the non-believer will be in great fear because God is real and He is with His people – “those who are righteous.”
“Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call on the Lord? There they are in great fear, For God is with the generation of the righteous. You shame the counsel of the poor, But the Lord is his refuge. Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad..” Psalms 14:4-7
Again, because of how God’s relationship with His own covenant people changed after rejecting Jesus the Messiah, those who God counted as righteous changed. Paul dealt with the atheist, pagan and theist in Romans and showed that God found them all to be unrighteous until they experienced God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22).
The “generation of the righteous” is the Hebrew dor saddiyq. The word dor speaks of an “age, generation, race” and was understood as the “period during which people live” (Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1997, p 152, originally published in 1940) and carries the idea of conforming to an ideal (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, McDonald Publishing, p 184, originally published 1850). The word saddiyq comes from a root that indicates conformity to a moral standard, thus “righteous.” Saddiyq means “to be right, straight” and carries the idea of being just and lawful, having a just cause and dispensing justice. The unrighteous unbelievers, those who “do not call on the Lord,” will be in great fear because God is with the age, generation, race of His righteous people.
We see here both God’s anger toward unbelievers and His great love toward believers. God manages His households and determines who is righteous and how they are made righteous.
- Why does Paul quote the “old testament” at all if it is not authoritative?
The Old Testament is authoritative and Paul quoted it as authoritative. Paul quoted more Old Testament Scripture than any other New Testament writer. Paul was an expert in the Law and revered it as God’s Word.
- If Paul acknowledges being Herodian in Romans 16:11 and Jesus tells me in Mark 8:15 to beware the leaven of Herod, then shouldn’t I obey Jesus and beware the leaven (doctrine) of Paul?
Paul was not a Herodian and never claimed to be a Herodian. The “Herodian” in Romans 16:11 is a person with that name. Look at the context and wording.
“Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.”
Herodian was one of Paul’s fellow countrymen.
- If Paul even late in his ministry claims to be a Pharisee in Acts 23:6 and Jesus tells me in Luke 12:1 to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, then shouldn’t I obey Jesus and beware Paul?
I am a former atheist and mention that when appropriate (e.g. while sharing the Gospel with atheists). I am a political independent and mention that when appropriate (e.g. when people want me to take sides with Republicans or Democrats). I am a Floridian and mention that when appropriate (e.g. knowledge of the state’s history). Paul was raised as a Pharisee and mentioned that when appropriate (e.g. when talking with Jews and their leaders).
Look at the context of Acts 21 – 23. Paul was in Jerusalem and appealing to the Jews in the crowd. He had a deep love for his fellow Jews and wanted them to know and understand that Jesus was their Messiah. Roman soldiers arrested Paul and he asked that they allow him to speak to the Jews who were angry with him (Acts 21). Paul shared with the crowd how he had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, taught the Law and was zealous toward God, and how he was a persecutor of followers of Jesus Christ. He told the Jews how Jesus had called him to preach the Gospel and sent him to the Gentiles (Acts 22). That angered the Jewish crowd even more and the Romans kept Paul in custody overnight. Paul spoke to the Sanhedrin the following day and that’s when he said these words:
“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, ‘We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” Acts 23:6-9
Paul brought up his being a Pharisee to demonstrate that he was preaching the resurrection of the dead. The leaven of the Pharisees Jesus addressed in Luke 12:1 was “hypocrisy.”
“In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together, so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops.” Luke 12:1-3
Jesus spoke those words to His disciples right after speaking several “woes” toward Pharisees and lawyers. They were a bunch of hypocrites and Jesus told His disciples that their hypocrisy was the “leaven of the Pharisees.” There is no hint of hypocrisy in what Paul was saying or doing in Acts 23. He was truthful and honest is all that he said.
Paul claimed to have encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus told me in Matthew 14:15 when someone claims to see him in the desert don’t believe him. Should I take the advice of Jesus and doubt Paul’s story?
You are quoting from Matthew 24. The context is the disciples of Jesus asking Him about the sign of His coming and the end of the age. Jesus answered that many would come in His Name saying, “I am the Christ,” and would deceive many. He said that false christs and false prophets would rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible even the elect.
Paul did none of those things. He didn’t claim to be the Christ and didn’t point to a false christ. The disciples in Damascus and the apostles in Jerusalem understood that Jesus had called Paul for a special mission. The Apostle Peter stood up in defense of what God was doing through Paul and Barnabas. You should take the advice of Jesus and believe Paul’s story.
Hopefully, these answers will help as you investigate with us whether Paul was an apostle or a fraud. More questions and answers next time.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”